Monday, September 29, 2008

My A.C.L. Blog

After all these years of not going to Austin City Limits (ACL) Fest, I finally gave in. It's not that I am not a festival person, because I love music fests. It is just the music fests I prefer have better, faster, more hardcore or danceable music. ACL is also a place where posers and real hipsters alike go to listen to indie rock bands and act too cool for school. I mean, even though they weren't on any signs or promo material, I'd have sworn American Apparel or Urban Outfitters was a sponsor. It was headbands and bandana scarves galore.

Why go then if that stuff bugs me? Why put up with that and the heat? Well because Sunday The Foo Fighters and Against Me were on the bill. Not to mention Texas's own (Christian) rock group Fly Leaf. Sunday was a day where I could bypass the indie rock and see groups I actually wanted to see. I am not saying ACL "gets it" or does a good job of catering to my musical tastes, but Sunday was a good day for non hipsters to check out.

I arrived at Zilker Park, via the Capital Metro shuttle bus, at around one o' clock. The first band on my list was a local favorite of mine, The Octopus Project. Words can try to explain what The Octopus Project sounds like, but seeing them live is the only way you can know. They are unlike any band I have seen before. Even though they are often labeled as "experimental", they are way past the experimenting stage of their music. Their unique sound is so in tune and polished that they own whatever genre of music they are in. With no vocals and a theremin, they are sure to capture your interest. By the way, I had no idea what a theremin was until I saw The Octopus Project for the first time.

The Octopus Project played a good set, with guest instruments played by a local group of middle school aged kids accompanying them on stage for a few songs. The crowd loved it and cheered, and it was fun to see their reactions. It was evident that many had not seen or heard of them before. One guy next to me was just wondering why they didn’t have a singer. I told him they don’t need one. There were hundreds of other curious faces and looks of bewilderment. They are the quintessential festival band…a must see.

The next band I wanted to see was Fly Leaf, playing across the park over at the AT&T stage. Understand this about ACL and festivals in general. If you don't camp out at the front of the stage early, you will be far away watching from the jumbotron screen. I ended up close enough to see but far enough away to leave easily to catch a show after. I was actually surprised and pleased that Fly Leaf was at ACL. I would have figured they were too metal (even though they are not metal) for this festival. I had never seen them before and loved their set. Fly Leaf singer, Lacy, can sing and scream really well. There was also a larger crowd than I expected watching them, and many were older (as in no one in high school or college aged).

Something else about Fly Leaf, is that they are indeed a Christian rock band. Did C3 know that I wonder? I don't mind that about Fly Leaf. Yeah they don't hide their faith in their music, but it is not too preachy or hitting you in the face with their beliefs either. Lacy did say before singing All Around Me that this song was about Jesus Christ. Good for her. No shame in letting people know where the song's inspiration came from, whether it be JC himself or anything else. There was no shame in their performance either as they rocked liked nobody's business. I only wish I were closer and could have made it to their autograph session at the Waterloo tent.

Right after Fly Leaf, it was time to make way to the front of the Dell Stage for Against Me. This was a group I hadn’t seen live before and was really looking forward to seeing. They spent their summer touring with ACL headliner, The Foo Fighters. Not just anyone can open for The Foo Fighters. Dave wouldn’t have it. That being said, I had high expectations for Against Me.

My expectations were totally met. I felt that I could have gone home after their set and been just fine. They sounded just like they do on CD. I say this now but I only began listening to Against Me this summer. Having listened to them online, I find I like their new sound better than their older, more punk rock sound. Against Me is good blend of punk, rock, and alternative….my three favorite genres. They played mostly songs from their most recent album, New Wave. It’s funny because all the hipster type kids were at another stage and the cool kids were at Against Me. I felt at home for the first time at that stage. Check out this clip from their set Sunday:

After Against Me rocked my socks off, I walked across the park to the big AT&T main stage for none other than Gnarls Barkley. I managed to get semi close on the left side facing the stage. Gnarls, Cee Lo Green from Goodie Mob and DJ Danger Mouse, play live shows with a house band consisting of a guitarist, a piano player and bass player. Danger Mouse plays piano/organ and Cee Lo sings. It is quite the musical collaboration. Their perfect blend of hip hop, old school soul and techno appeals to a broad audience.

For Gnarls, ACL was the last stop of their summer tour. What a way to go out, playing for thousands and thousands of people. Cee Lo sounded good despite being a little hoarse from all the touring. They performed all their hits from both their albums, including Crazy, which made the crowd go nuts. It was at that point, with all those people by the main stage, when ACL really felt like the massive music fest that it is. The sun was just about to go down and there was more of a breeze than before. All the fore mentioned elements, combined with Gnarls Barkley’s performance, made ACL even more memorable and it wasn’t even finished yet.

Before the main headliner (The Foo Fighters) came on, there was one more band that was a must see for me. I made my way back over to the Dell Stage to catch an old favorite from my teen years, Blues Traveler. I thought the window to see Blues Traveler live closed a long time ago with lead singer John Popper’s personal struggles and all. I always credit them with building my tolerance and eventual acceptance of the harmonica. Too many musicians think they can play it and cannot, just killing it for me. Popper is the real deal though. On Sunday he and the rest of Blues Traveler proved they still got it.

The start of their set was a memory lane trip right off the bat. They started with a cover of the Cheap Trick classic I Want You to Want Me and their own 1995 hit Hook. Oh the smile that brought to my face. I remember being 15 years old and not being able to get into their Austin show at Antone’s. That sourness I carried with me all these years went away with the beginning of Hook. Popper sounded so good live, almost as good as the CD itself. His adlibbing is the only thing keeping me from suspecting him of lip singing. He was that good. It was also pleasing to see people of all ages in the crowd for their set, as it is a testament to their timeless music that was able to transcend genres even then.

It would have been a perfect experience if not for these two drunk, snobby women spilling beer on my blanket telling me I had issues with my “personal space”. After asking them to their face if there was a problem, they had the nerve to tell me that I was taking up too much space, when there were empty spaces all around the stage they could have easily walked to. We have all encountered “these types” of festival goers before. I don’t know what made me think I was immune from it.

None the less, Blues Traveler was so great that even those two she-beasts couldn’t take away from my experience. Kudos to the band, as they were on point all throughout the whole set. I wanted to be sure to mention that so people wouldn’t think Popper is a man crush of mine or anything. But lets face it folks, he makes Blues Traveler.

After the ever so ear pleasing set from Blues Traveler, it was time to go back to the AT&T stage for The Foo Fighters. The good fighters of the evil foo (I hate foo!) were set to go on around 8:30 pm. I made it pretty close to the left side of the stage, but still felt so far away compared to how close I get to all the other concerts I usually attend. By then it was totally dark and all the crowd could see was the stage lights and spotlights.

The Foo Fighters immediately came out and owned the stage, giving the people their early hits from the late 90’s. I think they were the perfect headliner for closing out ACL this year. They appeal to fans of many ages, have had lots of radio hits, and are now revered by many as rock Gods. I mean, Dave Grohl was in the most important band of the last century (Nirvana in case you didn’t know).Needless to say they were amazing live. Experiencing them live with all those thousands of people was something else. Sunday night was the only night where literally everyone in the park was at one stage. Friday and Saturday nights people had two headliners to choose from. Sunday it was all about Foo Fighters.

Dave Grohl was hilarious in between songs. The highlight of their set for me was the acoustic version of Hero. That was the sing along song of the whole day, and probably the whole festival. Only the triangle solo could compete with that. Yes, a triangle solo. Grohl was correct in saying we would never have expected that. Nothing says rock festival like the triangle. And here I was impressed with the theremin earlier. What was I thinking?

All in all ACL was a good time. It doesn’t come around every day and the weather in September is beautiful in Austin. Just know if you come next year that you will need a mask or scarf to put over your face. I think I am still coughing the dust I inhaled all day at Zilker. Finally I leave you with a Foo Fighters video interview that Roxwel sent me. Check it out:

Foo Fighters - ACL Music Festival Coverage
Download Music Video Code at

1 comment:

montenegro said...

Hay Ion, you write pretty good for a not so educated vato. I think this is your best blog. Your good at palabras. Paz.